Tuesday 8 May 2018

Integrated wheelchair ramp and steps design

I've seen this image circulating recently and a couple of days ago a friend tagged me in it as they thought that as I'm a wheelchair user I'd probably want to comment on it over here. Correct! While this is primarily an autism blog, it is also a wheelchair-use/disability blog.

This is a real thing, in Robson Square in Vancouver. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/features/robson-square-2/ By all account it's now used in architecture courses to demonstrate how not to design things. 
Here are my thoughts.

Initial reaction: Nope, nope, ALL OF THE NOPE!
Then I took a few moments to come up with a more eloquent response.

1) The complete absence of rails, which are pretty important for safety, especially when going down the slope, is highly problematic. I'm pretty confident and a bit of a risk-taker when it comes to slopes (I live in Devon, which has a LOT of steep hills!) but even I balked at that. I wouldn't feel at all safe going down that slope.
2) Not all people who rely on the slope and can't use steps are wheelchair users - some use walkers, some use sticks or crutches - and many of them rely on handrails for stability and safety. These people cannot access this place.
3) Those turns are really tight, with not much room for manoeuvre, and anyone in a non-standard-size chair (mainly wider ones and power chairs) will find the hairpin bends difficult, if not downright impossible, to negotiate. And throw into the mix point 1, above, I wouldn't want to attempt it!
4)  With the ramp cutting back and forth between the steps, there will be collisions between wheelchair users and others with mobility problems that need to use a slope rather than steps, and able-bodied people. People tend to favour walking in a straight line, don't always pay attention to everything around them and are less likely to register or be aware of those who are lower than their own head height. I would rather have a separate ramp.

5) That ramp is long, so for anyone with fatigue or stamina problems (like myself), someone with a heavy chair or someone who is new to requiring the ramp, it can be really exhausting - and there's no rest stop, bench or anything, which means they'll block the route.

6) It doesn't look like there's any passing space, so realistically only one chair user at a time can use it. Not particularly practical.

7) Anyone with visual processing problems will struggle with the layout.

8) Anyone who's blind or partially-sighted will find it a challenge.

9) Inclement weather conditions, particularly ice, are pretty terrifying if you use any kind of mobility aid - could you imagine the skids and the loss of control that will lead to someone taking a nasty tumble?!

 edit 03/08/19:

10) The irregularity and inconsistency of step height can cause real problems for some people with balance and mobility difficulties, and they would thus struggle to safely walk up/down these steps.

So, nope nope NOPE!